LA utility spent $162 million on troubled billing system

DWP officials are working to correct a new software system that has generated inaccurate bills and left customers with frustratingly long hold times when they call the utility.
DWP officials are working to correct a new software system that has generated inaccurate bills and left customers with frustratingly long hold times when they call the utility. DWP video

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said it has spent nearly three times more than the original contract cost on a computerized billing system that has overcharged customers and sparked a flood of complaints.

The agency on Friday estimated spending $162 million on the system, which includes the cost of software, hardware, staff labor and outside consultants. The agency said an additional $8 million has been allocated to deal with problems but hasn't been spent yet.

All those costs were approved by the City Council, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The agency initially had mentioned only the $59 million cost of its contract with PriceWaterhouseCoopers to develop the system.

The agency rolled out the computerized billing, meter reading and customer service system in September to replace a 39-year-old setup, but it quickly led to a slew of complaints. The DWP said Friday that 3 to 5 percent of its 1.4 million customers have seen incorrect bills, delayed bills and late notices.

The agency was swamped with complaints, with many callers complaining of being stuck on hold for too long.

Councilman Mitch Englander proposed that the DWP put a moratorium on any disconnection notices until the problems with the billing system are worked out.

"I continue to receive an unprecedented level of phone calls from DWP ratepayers who are unable to resolve billing conflicts or inaccuracies and are being subjected to hour-and-a-half telephone hold times and long lines at DWP service centers," Englander said.

A DWP statement said the switchover to the new system has gone well overall and "significant progress" has been made in correcting problems. It apologized to customers who were inconvenienced.

"Any time an information system of this size and scope is replaced, issues will arise and need to be addressed as the system is implemented and stabilized," the agency said. It added that most problems typically surface within the first 60 days.

The agency said it will roll out a system next week that allows customers to get a call back instead of waiting to talk to a representative.

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